W-JCC considers student restraint and seclusion policy

mcanty@vagazette.com

Williamsburg-James City County schools are considering a policy outlining how and when trained teachers, faculty and staff can restrain or separate a child to keep the student from hurting themselves or others.

State officials said roughly two-thirds of Virginia schools already have guidelines on seclusion and restraint. The policy, however, is new for W-JCC schools.

The General Assembly passed legislation with bipartisan support earlier this year creating one statewide set of regulations when it comes to school officials placing their hands on children, to restrain them or separate them from other students.

York County Schools have had a policy since 2012. Isle of Wight and Poquoson school districts also have policies.

School Board members previewed a first draft of the policy Tuesday during a work session meeting.

Before the policy was presented, two special education advocates voiced opposition to the policy draft, saying it did not match up to the most current federal guidelines on such policies.

"Both state and federal guidelines stress that restraint and seclusion should be only used as a last resort," former special educator and William and Mary Law student Bridget Claycomb said. "The draft policy uses the Virginia corporal punishment statue to justify the use of restraint and seclusion in non-emergency situations and prioritizes the need to quell disturbance and protect property over the liberty of its students."

Claycomb lauded the district's special education program and said any new policy on restraint and seclusion should ensure it is used as a last resort. She said parents should be notified as soon as possible when it happens.

District superintendent Steve Constantino the policy has been reviewed by the School Board's policy committee, attorney and the Special Education Advisory Committee.

The policy would not just apply to special education students, but to all students, school officials said.

W-JCC already has roughly 100 trained employees, including special education teachers and their aides and school resource officers, who know how to safely restrain or separate children from other students, according to school officials.

Williamsburg School Board member Elise Emanuel questioned the parental notification period, which gives the district five days to send a parent written notice.

"I think if I were a parent, I'd like (the notification) to be as soon as possible," Emanuel said. "I think we can tighten that up a bit."

School officials said the policy itself would not detail the notification window, but procedures that go with the policy would be more specific, describing how it would be applied, training staff members to apply it and documenting incidents as well as a time frame for notification.

"This is not a pleasant policy. I think we all hope that this is the last resort," board president Jim Kelly said. "Its concerning. I really want to flesh out some of these things and see them in the policy."

Kelly asked the superintendent's staff to make one more pass on the policy and procedures to refine them. Several board members stressed the reshaping of the policy take into consideration their concerns and those of the special educators who spoke during the public comment period.

Canty can be reached at (757) 345-2341.

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